When you think of popular credit card networks, Visa and Mastercard probably come to mind first. But are there other major companies that dominate the credit card market? What are the most popular credit card issuers? Are Americans choosing general-purpose cards that can be used at a variety of retailers, or gravitating towards retail cards that can only be used at specific stores?
There’s an 83% chance you have at least 1 credit card, per the Federal Reserve,¹ and according to Experian,² the average American has 3.84 cards. This means that you have a lot of options when it comes to which types of cards you open, how many you have, and how much you decide to spend on each card. Read on to find out which types of cards are the most popular.
- As of the end of 2020, there were 485 million open general-purpose card accounts (based on cards issued by the 4 major networks – Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover) and 214 million open private label accounts.³
- In 2020, Visa had nearly 50% of all credit cards in circulation in the U.S.⁴
- Visa and Mastercard combined to dominate the market in 2020 with over 75% of spending by purchase volume.⁴
- 2020 saw a decrease in purchase volume compared to 2019 across all networks, however, American Express saw the most dramatic decrease at -16.3%. By comparison, the second-highest decrease was Visa at -8.37%.⁴
- The top 10 card issuers in the U.S. held 82% of outstanding credit card balances in 2020.⁵
- Chase had the largest credit card market share of any issuer in 2020 when measured by outstanding balances and by purchase volume.⁵
Major Credit Card Networks in the U.S.
A credit card network sets the terms for credit card transactions, authorizes them, and processes them. The credit card market in the U.S. has primarily 4 major players: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. These differ primarily in terms of global acceptance and perks, but also by market share.
Hot Tip: Still confused about the difference between credit card networks and issuers? Don’t worry — we have a guide for you! Check out our list of major credit card companies and card networks, including history, most popular cards, and more.
Networks by Purchase Volume
In terms of purchasing volume, Visa is the clear leader at almost $2 trillion in 2020. Mastercard is the second-closest competitor at $837 billion. American Express and Discover round out the networks at $693 billion and $149 billion, respectively.
It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact across the board. People spent less money overall in 2020 compared to 2019, leading to a decline in purchasing volume across all major networks. American Express saw the biggest impact with a 16.3% decrease, but Visa and Mastercard both saw around an 8% decrease. Discover was the least-impacted, with a drop of only 1.32%.
Networks by Percent of Purchase Volume
Visa is the clear frontrunner in terms of purchase volume in 2020. The same can be said over the past 5 years as well — with Visa always maintaining at least 50% of the market share among the 4 major networks. Visa has steadily increased its market share over the years, growing from 50.57% in 2017 to 53.99% in 2020.
Mastercard has been consistent at around 22% of the market share across the past 5 years, while American Express has declined slightly from 22.85% in 2017 to 18.99% in 2020. Discover, while the smallest in terms of the major networks, has held steady around 4% of the market share over the past 5 years.
Number of Cards in Circulation
Another way to consider market share is in terms of the number of credit cards in circulation in the U.S.
Visa comes in at the top, at close to 50% of all cards in circulation in 2020. This lead has slowly declined over the past 5 years, falling from a high of 52.84% in 2016. People appear to be gradually moving towards Mastercard as its share has increased by the same amount, while American Express and Discover remain fairly consistent by percentage over this same time period.
Major Credit Card Issuers in the U.S.
Credit card issuers, such as banks, retailers, or credit unions, issue credit cards to consumers. There are a lot of credit card issuers, but still only a handful with the largest piece of the market. Thus, we’ve limited our data to the top 15.
We’ve included both general-purpose and store card issuers. For example, issuers such as Synchrony Financial, Citi Retail Services, and Alliance Data Systems all issue store cards for businesses such as Old Navy, Sam’s Club, and more.
Issuers by Percent of Outstanding Balances
Outstanding balance shows how much much of your credit limit you have available — and credit limits are set by the card issuer. This data factors in both people who pay off their balance on their cards each month as well as people who are carrying a balance on their cards.
Your outstanding balance includes:
Chase was the largest issuer in terms of outstanding balances in 2020 at $141.66 billion. Citibank, Bank of America, Capital One, and American Express round out the top 5. There are a lot more than 15 card issuers, but when you combine the outstanding balances from the remaining issuers, it all adds up to less than any of the top 5 issuers.
Major Issuers by Purchase Volume
All issuers saw a drop in purchasing volume in 2020 (most around 10%), presumably due to financial uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest drop was with purchasing volume at American Express, at a decrease of 18.10% from 2019.
Chase and American Express were 2020’s top issuers in terms of market share by purchase volume, both with a volume of about $650 to $700 billion. In fact, these 2 issuers were the top 2 over the past 5 years as well. American Express was previously the leader in this category, but this flipped for the first time in 2020 due to the larger than average decline in purchasing volume, as noted above.
Citibank, Bank of America, and Capital One made up the second tier of issuers, hovering in the $300 to $400 billion range. The remaining 3 banks in the last tier include U.S. Bank, Discover, and Wells Fargo in the $100 to $150 billion range.
While Americans may have spent less on their credit cards in 2020 compared to prior years, there is no doubt that credit cards are still the dominant way to pay for purchases. Overall, the differences between cards, including things like global acceptance, perks, and rewards, lead to variations in market share between these networks and issuers.
And when it comes to market share in the credit card market, there are definitely a few key players — both by network and issuer. Visa and Mastercard have reigned supreme on the network side, while general-purpose cards from Chase, Citi, and Bank of America make up the biggest chunk on the card issuer side.